LINCOLN, Neb. — The University of Wisconsin volleyball team entered the season with aspirations of epic accomplishments.
While their final story has yet to be written, the No. 13 Badgers achieved a landmark feat Saturday night by sweeping No. 2 Nebraska 25-22, 25-21, 25-22 before a sellout crowd of 8,393 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
That victory came on the heels of a win over No. 5 Penn State three nights earlier at the UW Field House, giving the Badgers a first in program history with victories over two top-five teams in the same week.
“We wanted to make program history beating two top-five teams in a row,” said senior libero Tiffany Clark. “So that was really sweet.”
In the process, the Badgers (8-4, 4-0 Big Ten Conference) have succeeded in putting a less than stellar non-conference season behind them.
“The resiliency of this group is astonishing,” coach Kelly Sheffield said. “The way the preseason closed out and to come out and be able to hit the reset button going into the Big Ten and be clear-minded and confident and together is really cool. I really liked how we closed out sets and closed out matches. We’ve done a really good job of that the last couple weeks.”
The Badgers utilized a balanced attack with redshirt junior Molly Haggerty leading with 11 kills and juniors Dana Rettke and Grace Loberg and redshirt sophomore Danielle Hart each putting away 10 balls. UW hit .376 for the match against a Nebraska defense that had held its first 12 opponents to a .142 mark.
Nebraska (11-2, 3-1) was nearly as efficient, hitting .336, led by 15 kills from junior Lexi Sun.
“Nobody could’ve predicted two teams hitting at that percentage,” Sheffield said. “That’s because both teams were hitting so well out of system. We didn’t give away too many points. We kept it pretty darn clean throughout the match.”
Sheffield credited junior setter Sydney Hilley with doing a good job of spreading the ball around to keep the Nebraska defense guessing.
“We’re best when everybody is involved,” he said. “I thought Sydney was really good with keeping everybody involved. The passing got a lot stronger as the match went on and allowed her to have options. And we took some really good swings out of system. Our three pin hitters were really good. I thought the attackers for both teams were really good out of system.”
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Hart’s 10 kills marked a season high and provided a much-needed boost to the attack when Rettke was rotated out of the lineup.
“I’ve been working on that,” Hart said. “That for me has been the challenge this year. I’ve been staying after every practice and trying to let (assistant coach Gary White) give me as many reps as he can.”
After failing to close out multiple sets early in the season, the Badgers had to come back in each set Saturday as they trailed at the 15-point mark each time.
“I just think the difference is that we’re having fun and living in the moment,” Clark said. “In the preseason we’d kind of look ahead and not at the point at hand. I think that’s how those last few points got away from us before. Right now we’re just living in the moment, having fun and loving the game. I think that’s what Badger volleyball is all about.”
The victory was the Badgers’ third straight over Nebraska. After winning just once in their first 19 meetings, the Badgers have won five of the past seven matches with the Cornhuskers, whose only previous loss this season was to Stanford.
“I thought we played really well,” Clark said. “Both teams played well but I just thought we finished better at the end of sets, which we had trouble with previously. That shows a lot of growth but we still have a long way to go.”
Wisconsin 25 25 25
Nebraska 22 21 22
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Barnes 0-4-0, Hilley 0-4-1, Duello 6-2-0, Rettke 10-2-3, Hart 10 1-1, Haggerty 11-3-1, Ashburn 0-7-0, Clark 0-10-0, Dodge 0-1-0, Loberg 10-3-1. Totals 47-36-4.
NEBRASKA (kills-digs-blocks) — Hames 0-4-1, Kubik 9-10-1, Sun 15-5-0, Sweet 13-2-3, Schwarzenbach 1-0-2, Stivrins 9-1-1, Knuckles 0-10-0, Miller 0-5-0, Szabo 0-0-0, Davis 2-0-0, Drewnick 0-2-0, Zuhn 0-0-1. Totals 49-39-4.5.
Hitting percentage — W .376, N .336. Aces — N 0, W 3 (Rettke, Haggerty, Clark). Assists — W 45 (Hilley 42), N 46 (Hames 42) . Att. — 8,393.